“The backward march has been the goal of the Muslim Personal Law Board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi … also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by … Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.” – Balbir Punj
It is not surprising that the Muslim Personal Law Board has opposed observing June 21 as International Yoga Day. And while doing so, it has several “secularists” on its side. It only confirms that the orthodox Islamic leadership in India continues on a backward march into medieval times with “secularists” singing the marching tune.
Whether this particular opposition is in the interest of the Muslim masses, who need physical and mental healthcare as much as any other human being does irrespective of his religious beliefs or un-beliefs or even prejudices, is a matter for the intended beneficiaries to decide.
The backward march has been the goal of the board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, for all his computer-savvy image of his early days in power, also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by his cabinet colleague Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.
Since then, it has been a slide further and further into primeval times for this community and a marginalisation of its liberal leadership. From the Babri issue to Taslima Nasrin’s book and now, the direction has been back to the middle ages. The undercurrent of admiration for the resurrected caliphate of the 7th century onwards as the ideal political institution in this age of technology and information further underlines this ugly reality. Obviously, a good section of the community does not agree with the proponents of such orthodoxy. The All India Imam Organisation, only the other day, met the prime minister and supported his idea of celebrating International Yoga Day. That organisation claimed the community was for the projection of what it characterised as bharatiyata.
How misleading the position of the board is can be grasped from the fact that when this commemoration was proposed last October by our prime minister in his address to the UN General Assembly, as many as 177 nations supported the subsequent resolution. Now, as many as 192 nations—including many Muslim-majority—are participating in the Yoga Day.
The other aspect of this Islamic orthodoxy distancing the community from one cultural practice of the bharatiyata to another is the subtle advice against participating in the lighting of the brass lamp at the beginning of events, the refusal to say pranam or namaste in greeting other Indians, etc. The board itself has opposed the proposition of all liberal, modern minds that the age of consent for marriage should be 18 and not 15.
There are over 700 yoga centres in the US alone and more in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, etc. Leading Indian yoga masters have received tremendous support, even adulation, in many of these countries. Several million people abroad practice yoga and most of them are from local non-Hindu communities.
The respect that yoga has earned among scientific circles abroad is revealed in a Bloomberg report dated November 22, 2013, saying: “Scientists are getting close to proving what traditionally was held to be true for centuries. Yoga and meditation can ward off stress and disease.” The report reveals that John Denninger, HMS instructor in psychiatry in the Massachusetts General Hospital, is leading a five-year study on yoga’s effect on this.
Noted foreign expert on Indian classical traditions Dr David Frawley in his book, Yoga and Ayurveda, says that yoga and ayurveda are two closely related spiritual or sacred sciences rooted in India’s Vedic traditions. Both have holistic health as a common factor, though yoga is at its high point towards self-relalisation.
The learned men constituting the Muslim Personal Law Board must explain if they are against all national symbols as they have rejected yoga for its “religious” roots. Would they reject the slogan, “Satyameva Jayate”, or our national symbol of Ashoka Chakra also because all of them derive from religious texts or events?
Do we understand that the board will advise their followers not to associate in any manner with what is derived from or has roots in Hindu religion? The so-called secular parties that have also taken up cudgels against teaching of yoga and readings from the Bhagavad Gita in schools have also to explain whether they would side with the Islamic orthodoxy that is distancing itself from all that is part of Indian culture and has religious roots.
Unfortunately for them, there is little that can be entirely separated from the Hindu tradition in the country. For instance, will the board order its followers to shun Hindustani classical music with its deep-rooted spring in the Hindu bhakti tradition? In the dance forms including Kathak that have Bharata’s magnum opus Natya Shastra as the fundamental book? Or in the Shilpa Shastras, all of which say the ultimate goal of even sculpture is to capture the ananda of the divine?
These exclusivists and their secular-political vote bank seekers tend to ignore what many among Muslim masses and intelligentsia, specially cultural leadership have already made part of their life including their religious life. Hymns of worship sung at many places of Muslim Peers are encased in Hindustani ragas.
The most famous classical musicians, be it Ustad Allauddin Khan or the Dagar Brothers, or any of the great songs sung by them have religious, mainly Hindu, ideas of self-realisation, merging with the divine and such themes at their core.
We would wait to see if the board, in its new-found—derived from the Wahhabi puritanism—enthusiasm for keeping the Muslim masses untouched even by the cultural stream derived from Indian, mainly Hindu, traditions, evoke a boycott, in which case are they moving towards a cultural partition of India? It is reassuring that a section of Muslims, including the imams, has already answered this by opposing any cultural partition in its entirety and re-emphasising on bharatiyata as its flagship. As anybody with a strong sense of history and responsive to modernity will see, Wahhabi exclusivism and an Islam-only mindset is increasingly finding resistance—among Muslim-majority nations themselves.
Perhaps some sections of Muslims are beginning to assert. In the yoga discourse also, they are bound to assert themselves rejecting the cultural partitionists. Incidentally, June 21 is also the day the sun is staying longer on the northern hemisphere despite the Islamic leadership that would like to reject everything we speak about with warmth about this life-giver of the planetary system. – The New Indian Express, 13 June 2015
» Balbir Punj is national vice president, BJP. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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